Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg: The Best-Selling Author/Hapless Hero Ian Ludlow Returns to Save the Day Again

I wrote about half of a post about this book to go up yesterday. But I realized I’d spent a lot of time talking about things I really didn’t care about, and hadn’t spent any time talking about the bits I did care about. But I couldn’t turn the ship around (much to my annoyance). So, I let one more day go without a post — a truly annoying trend for the week/month. This isn’t quite what I wanted it to be. But it’s done. So that’s a start.

Killer ThrillerKiller Thriller

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #2

Kindle Edition, 277 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2019

Read: May 21 – 22, 2019

           “…I want Ludlow under constant and total visual, audio, digital, and personal surveillance,” Yat added. If anybody in Beijing asked about it, he’d explain that it was part of his ongoing investigation into Wang Kang’s activities, which wasn’t far from the truth. Those were always the most effective lies. “Mobilize every resource that we have.”

“Including the assassins?”

“Especially the assassins,” Yat said.

In True Fiction, Lee Goldberg introduced us to Ian Ludlow — former TV writer, now thriller writer extraordinaire — who discovered (the hard way) that terrorists were using his fiction as a playbook. Then he had to go on the run for his life from these people who didn’t appreciate the fact that he’d be able to identify what they were doing. Running alongside him (frequently behind, more frequently ahead of him) was the poor girl who was supposed to schlep him from bookstore event to bookstore event in Seattle. Margo didn’t like Ludlow, but finding their fates bound together, she threw herself into surviving — and is very likely the reason he did survive.

Not only did they survive, they uncovered and defeated a group within US Intelligence that were actively plotting against the US. It’s a highly improbable story that didn’t feel that improbable — yet was told in a way that played up the tension, the suspense and the fun. It was one of the funniest and most enjoyable books I read last year.

Now it’s time for the inevitable sequel — Killer Thriller — and Lee Goldberg has somehow done what almost every good sequel strives to do (and few succeed) — he tells pretty much the same story with just a couple of differences, yet does so in a way that feels completely fresh and original — in most ways, superior to the original. I don’t think it’d be hard to take a semi-thorough outline of both novels to compare against each other and find that they’re freakishly similar. But I only thought about that when I sat back to think about the book and its predecessor. While reading, I didn’t care about True Fiction or any similarities the current book had to it. I just had too much fun while reading the sequel I couldn’t be bothered to compare it.

Which is a pretty neat trick, really. It’s like when Chandler Bing said, ” Oh–I think this is the episode of “Three’s Company” where there’s some kind of misunderstanding.” Just because every episode of Three’s Company featured a few misunderstandings — it didn’t keep things (usually) from not being funny. The same kind of thing here — just because Ludlow and Margo are once again thrown in to the middle of things they’re not ready for, it doesn’t keep the action scenes from being riveting and the funny bits from being funny.

So, if you haven’t read the first book, let me tell you a little bit about Ian Ludlow. He’s overweight, doesn’t take care of himself in anyway, shape or form. He doesn’t seem to be attractive (and bounces between knowing it and forgetting it). His ego is pretty big, but he’s also realistic about himself. He’s lazy about everything but his writing — and he could likely be more disciplined about it. Okay, based on what we’re told about his greatest creation, Clint Straker — imagine the combination of Bond and Reacher — he’s pretty lazy. Still, he comes up with incredible plots (don’t take my word for it, take the word of people who based terror campaigns on his work). Deep down (Margo would argue very, very deep) he’s a decent guy. Especially for the 15-25 minutes a day he’s not hitting on some unwilling woman, or thinking about hitting on her.

Margo, meanwhile, is a would-be singer/songwriter, a former dog walker, and is really vocationally lost. She’s smart, she’s tough, and adaptable — even if she’s still trying to figure out how to adapt after the events of True Fiction. She’s picked up some self-defense skills along the way, which will prove to be handy.

Ludlow brings Margo with him to Hong Kong to act as his research assistant and hopefully relax a little from the stress that’s eating at her from her recent harrowing experiences (almost being killed counts as harrowing, right?). He’s going to Hong Kong to do a little promotion for the studio that’s turning his first Straker book into a movie. While there, he wants Margo to scope out some places and things he can use in his upcoming novel. In this novel, the Chinese government is waging a secret campaign to take over the US through political manipulation and selling us cheap products they can use to spy on us. Straker’s going to fight against them in Hong Kong, so he needs some local color.

Once in the hotel (and on the hotel’s wi-fi), a group of Chinese espionage agents tap into Ludlow’s laptop and make an unsettling discovery. The plot laid out in Ludlows “novel” is ridiculously close to the plan this same group has spent years devising and implementing to take over the US government through manipulation, cash, and fear. Clearly this man’s novels are just a cover story, he has to be the most wily of secret agents — using this preposterous writer character as a cover for his actual abilities and mission to stop this Chinese plot.

So the Chinese begin their dangerous game of cat and mouse with the “spy” Ian Ludlow. It’s more of a cat-and-clueless-yet-incredibly-lucky-mouse game. But you get the point. But hey, it works. Think Inspector Gadget and Penny — without the robotic arms and sentient dog.

Like Ludlow, Goldberg spent a lot of time as a writer/producer of television. And in both books he does a great job of lampooning the men and women writing, directing and starring in TV and movies. You can’t help but feel Goldberg exorcising some personal demons as he does so — particularly in the table read scene and everything that Damon Matthews (the actor playing Straker) says and does. Incidentally, I’m sure any parallels people might draw between Matthews/Straker and Cruise/Reacher are completely unintentional on Goldberg’s part. For my money, if doing this sort of thing helps Goldberg deal with the frustrations that seem to plague most TV writers/screenwriters, I hope he keeps pouring out his frustrations on the page — I love ’em.

Goldberg seems to have learned a lot from the Fox and O’Hare books he co-wrote with Janet Evanovich — there are huge chunks of this book that feel like they were originally planned for one of them. Whether Goldberg repurposed the scenes or was just influenced by his time with that series really doesn’t matter — the sensibility that made that series work so well is making this one work very well, too.

From the big things — like fight scenes or car chases — to the way he describes a Washington D. C. restaurant, to little touches like the way that someone smuggles information out of China, Goldberg is at the top of his game — which is an accomplishment. I think I’ve read almost 30 of his books and there are maybe one or two that are more satisfying than Killer Thriller. Thrills and laughs together — and maybe maybe a little surprising character depth and development (just a bit, we don’t want Ludlow to stop being a cad and a loser), this is a whole lotta fun. You can come into this one fresh, you won’t appreciate the changes in character (particularly Margo), but you’ll have just about as much fun as the rest of us.

—–

4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge Humor Reading Challenge 2019

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Reposting Just ‘Cuz — True Fiction by Lee Goldberg: A Writer on the Run

Here’s the second of my Lee Goldberg reposts for the day — by the time you read this, I’ve probably finihsed the sequel to this one, which might be even more fun than this. Do yourself a favor and check out these books — but first, let me try to lay out the argument that you should.

True FictionTrue Fiction

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #1

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: July 20 – 21, 2018

“Sorry I’m late,” Ian said. “I’ve been on the run all morning.”

It was a line worthy of Clint Straker and Ian knew it. He couldn’t stop being a writer, always thinking of the next line in one of his thrillers. But he was living a thriller now and it was no thrill at all.

This is one of those books that’s super easy to write about — if you like the premise of the book, you’ll like the book. It’s just that simple. The tricky part is finding someone who wouldn’t like this premise.

Ian Ludlow, television writer turned thriller novelist, can’t believe his eyes — a terrorist attack in Hawaii went exactly the way that he designed and he’s pretty sure that someone is trying to kill him. Ludlow was part of a group of writers (movie, TV, novelists) that came up with some scenarios for the CIA that terrorists might use, so the CIA could design counter-measures. This is a thing that actually happened (maybe still does) following 9/11, because writers have much better imaginations than government employees do. One of those scenarios is playing out in real life and Ludlow doesn’t know what to do. Clearly someone out there doesn’t want Ludlow spreading the word that he’s the source for this attack.

Before he realizes what’s happening, Ludlow is running for his life and has dragged Margo along with him. Margo’s a dog-sitter, house-sitter, aspiring musician, and occasionally drives authors visiting Seattle to their signings. That’s how this poor girl gets sucked into Ludlow’s mess — she saves his life (and then he returns the favor), dooming her to having to run with him.

Add in some over-the-top villains (I hope, see below), and Goldberg’s signature wit and solid writing, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

This is a fast fun ride featuring about the most unlikely of all thriller protagonists. Ian Ludlow isn’t really in any kind of shape; he has no skills with hand-to-hand combat, cars, or weapons — his people skills are suspect, really; all he has going for him is a pretty agile mind. Margo’s a little better off, but not much. They quickly run to the home of one of Ian’s friends who lives off of the grid and is paranoid enough he’ll believe their story. Which may not really be the strongest of qualifications, but they can’t afford to be choosy. The three of them will have to figure out a way to survive — and possibly stop whoever it was behind the attack.

Does anyone else remember Condorman? The Disney film about a comic book writer/artist who accidentally (very accidentally) becomes a super-spy? I was 7 or 8 when it came out and loved it. Anyway, I had a flash-back to that when Ludlow stumbles his way into taking out one of the many assassins that come after him — one of the many times I had an honest audible response to this book (not a book I recommend reading in an ICU ward, for what it’s worth, people tend not to like noises there).

Now, I called the villains over-the-top. I’m not really sure they are — they seem over the top, but there’s a little part of me wonders how hard it really would be for someone to pull off something like this. John Rogers, of Leverage, frequently talked about how some of their over-the-top bad guys were watered down versions of the real thing (because no one would believe the real thing). Take my word for it, I don’t have time to track him down saying it. Let’s put it this way — they’re perfect for this book, and like just about every thriller villain ever, it’s best that they stay inside the book.

While he’s telling a very fun story, Goldberg takes a little bit of time to satirize thrillers, thriller writings, and thriller heroes — I loved every bit of that. It helps that Goldberg writes and reads the same books he’s satirizing, so you know he does it with love and honesty. Some of the excerpts from Ludlow’s books are just awful, it must’ve been hard to write (but so much fun). Ditto for the TV shows that Ian’s friend Ronnie starred in, I really hope that those are things that Goldberg made up for this book (and fear they aren’t).

This feels like Goldberg and Evanovich’s Fox & O’Hare books, or maybe The Man with the Iron-On Badge (which features a protagonist only slightly more likely than Ian) — not his more serious work like King City. The story moves quickly, deftly and will leave you smiling — I can’t imagine Goldberg writing a disappointing book at this point, I just don’t think he can. Pick this up, you will be entertained.

—–

4 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: — King City by Lee Goldberg

So, I couldn’t get anything written tonight — and Lee Goldberg’s on my mind, so I thought I’d repost a couple of the many posts I’ve done about his books (which is probably less than 50% of what I’ve read). Here’s one from Goodreads before I started this here blog.

King CityKing City

by Lee Goldberg

Paperback, 246 pg.
Thomas and Mercer, 2012
Read: July 4-5, 2012

One part Jack Reacher, one part Jesse Stone, this first installment in Lee Goldberg’s new series reads like a Western set in the 21st century.

Tom Wade, a rigorously scrupulous cop is assigned to a part of King City so crime and poverty-ridden that city officials pretend it doesn’t exist. He’s sent there because the police force is overly-politicized where it isn’t overtly corrupted, and they can’t fire such an upstanding cop–but maybe his new post will lead to him being killed.

Wade is fully aware of this, but accepts his new post with gusto–he has a chance to make a difference and sets out to do so in as splashy a way as possible.

This isn’t a subtle book with complex characters–and doesn’t try to be. The characters are pretty much the dictionary definition of “stock,” the good guys are good, the bad guys are really bad–and that’s that. A fun, straightforward testosterone-y action book. Hopefully the first of many.

—–

3 Stars

Opening Lines: Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg:

           Ian Ludlow’s UCLA creative writing professor insisted that the key to being a successful novelist was writing from personal experience. That’s why the professor was the author of five unpublished novels about sexually frustrated novelists who toiled in obscurity while teaching talentless and ungrateful students how to write.

So Ian ignored his professor’s edict and wrote escapist adventure stories that had nothing to do with his own mundane life. That’s how he flunked the class but eventually became a writer for TV shows like Hollywood & the Vine (half-man, half-plant, all cop!) and the author of the internationally bestselling series of action thrillers about Clint Straker, freelance spy for hire.

“And that’s how I ended up here,” Ian said, standing in front of a hundred people at Seattle’s Union Bay Books on a warm Saturday night.

It took precisely two sentences to make me chuckle, and two paragraphs to make me remember just how fun Ian Ludlow is as a character. It doesn’t get much more efficient than that.

True Fiction by Lee Goldberg: A Writer on the Run

True FictionTrue Fiction

by Lee Goldberg
Series: Ian Ludlow Thrillers, #1

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: July 20 – 21, 2018

“Sorry I’m late,” Ian said. “I’ve been on the run all morning.”

It was a line worthy of Clint Straker and Ian knew it. He couldn’t stop being a writer, always thinking of the next line in one of his thrillers. But he was living a thriller now and it was no thrill at all.

This is one of those books that’s super easy to write about — if you like the premise of the book, you’ll like the book. It’s just that simple. The tricky part is finding someone who wouldn’t like this premise.

Ian Ludlow, television writer turned thriller novelist, can’t believe his eyes — a terrorist attack in Hawaii went exactly the way that he designed and he’s pretty sure that someone is trying to kill him. Ludlow was part of a group of writers (movie, TV, novelists) that came up with some scenarios for the CIA that terrorists might use, so the CIA could design counter-measures. This is a thing that actually happened (maybe still does) following 9/11, because writers have much better imaginations than government employees do. One of those scenarios is playing out in real life and Ludlow doesn’t know what to do. Clearly someone out there doesn’t want Ludlow spreading the word that he’s the source for this attack.

Before he realizes what’s happening, Ludlow is running for his life and has dragged Margo along with him. Margo’s a dog-sitter, house-sitter, aspiring musician, and occasionally drives authors visiting Seattle to their signings. That’s how this poor girl gets sucked into Ludlow’s mess — she saves his life (and then he returns the favor), dooming her to having to run with him.

Add in some over-the-top villains (I hope, see below), and Goldberg’s signature wit and solid writing, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

This is a fast fun ride featuring about the most unlikely of all thriller protagonists. Ian Ludlow isn’t really in any kind of shape; he has no skills with hand-to-hand combat, cars, or weapons — his people skills are suspect, really; all he has going for him is a pretty agile mind. Margo’s a little better off, but not much. They quickly run to the home of one of Ian’s friends who lives off of the grid and is paranoid enough he’ll believe their story. Which may not really be the strongest of qualifications, but they can’t afford to be choosy. The three of them will have to figure out a way to survive — and possibly stop whoever it was behind the attack.

Does anyone else remember Condorman? The Disney film about a comic book writer/artist who accidentally (very accidentally) becomes a super-spy? I was 7 or 8 when it came out and loved it. Anyway, I had a flash-back to that when Ludlow stumbles his way into taking out one of the many assassins that come after him — one of the many times I had an honest audible response to this book (not a book I recommend reading in an ICU ward, for what it’s worth, people tend not to like noises there).

Now, I called the villains over-the-top. I’m not really sure they are — they seem over the top, but there’s a little part of me wonders how hard it really would be for someone to pull off something like this. John Rogers, of Leverage, frequently talked about how some of their over-the-top bad guys were watered down versions of the real thing (because no one would believe the real thing). Take my word for it, I don’t have time to track him down saying it. Let’s put it this way — they’re perfect for this book, and like just about every thriller villain ever, it’s best that they stay inside the book.

While he’s telling a very fun story, Goldberg takes a little bit of time to satirize thrillers, thriller writings, and thriller heroes — I loved every bit of that. It helps that Goldberg writes and reads the same books he’s satirizing, so you know he does it with love and honesty. Some of the excerpts from Ludlow’s books are just awful, it must’ve been hard to write (but so much fun). Ditto for the TV shows that Ian’s friend Ronnie starred in, I really hope that those are things that Goldberg made up for this book (and fear they aren’t).

This feels like Goldberg and Evanovich’s Fox & O’Hare books, or maybe The Man with the Iron-On Badge (which features a protagonist only slightly more likely than Ian) — not his more serious work like King City. The story moves quickly, deftly and will leave you smiling — I can’t imagine Goldberg writing a disappointing book at this point, I just don’t think he can. Pick this up, you will be entertained.

—–

4 Stars

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Why this took me so long to post, I’ll never know…it’s bad enough that it took me a month and a half to read it.

The PursuitThe Pursuit

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #5

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Bantam, 2016

Read: September 2, 2016

“I’ll send your money, but don’t think about running out on me,” Dragan said. “Or I’ll torture and kill both of you.”

Nick shook his head. “You can’t go ten minutes without making a threat, can you?”

“It’s called leadership,” Dragan said. “Stay in touch.”

Following the cliff-hanger ending to The Scam, I wondered if this book would shake off the fairly well-established outline for these books and instead, we’d get Kate globe-trotting from exotic locale to exotic locale hunting them down. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg had something better in mind (not that something like my idea wouldn’t have been fun), while pretty much sticking to the typical outline.

Nick’s kidnapping ends up setting the stage for taking down an international thief and would-be terrorist. This thief, Dragan, is the anti-Nick. He’s about profit, violence, and more profit. There’s no style, no fun, no zest . . . But Dragan knows what he needs to accomplish a couple of his biggest heists: Nick.

Naturally, he gets more than he bargains for (and I don’t just mean Kate). Of the various criminals, masterminds, thieves and all around nasty folks that these two have taken down or encountered, Dragan is the worst. Thankfully, Evanovich and Goldberg are able to balance the threat and the humor, the romance and the robbery.

It all comes down to relationships: which is really why we come back to this series. Kate and Nick (I’m gladdened/relieved/a little surprised by where they have the relationship now). Nick and Jake. Kate and Jake. The rest of the team with Nick and/or Kate. Jake and anyone he comes into contact with (if we could get some young, active duty Jake stories, that’d be awesome). I like the way that their team is doing non-con work together — despite their best intentions, Nick and Kate have formed an actual team. There are a couple of additions this go-around (one is a blast from the past, but still, new to this side of the road).

I think there’s a misfire here — there’s a new foil introduced into Kate’s life, an FBI agent who is to work with her without knowing about this little side-project. He’s a little humorous, but mostly annoying. And his existence seems to run counter to the people at the top of the FBI sanctioning (however unofficially) what’s going on here. I’m prepared for them to convince me otherwise, but until they do, I’m going to groan whenever he shows up.

The writing is crisp as ever, it seems so smooth and effortless that it has to take a lot of work. There’s a great info-dump (because that’s actually a thing, rare as it may be) about an infectious disease. Not only does it inform the reader, but it’s written in a way to flesh out a character and add a sense of threat to the narrative.

There’s an editing blunder in the final few chapters that took me out of the moment (using Kate’s name instead of one of Dragan’s crew), that was oddly reassuring to me — even the big publishers stumble, not just the small press/self-pubbed guys like I’ve been reading so much lately.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned Harry Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz when talking about this series, but this is Nick Fox at his Slippery Jimmiest (Kate is a little like Angelina diGriz, too, come to think of it — but not as much). Fans of either should look into the other. The Pursuit is another solidly entertaining adventure in this series. Really looking forward to what’s next.

Oh, I should add that if you’re a fan of eggs, you might want to eat a few extra before reading this book, because it’ll be tough to eat one for a while. Trust me on this one.

—–

4 Stars

The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The ScamThe Scam

by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #4
Hardcover, 286 pg.

Bantam, 2015

Read: September 24 – 24, 2015

“You can never have too many weapons,” Jake said.
“Does that mean you brought your rocket launcher?”
“It’s in the trunk of my car in case of a roadside emergency.”
“What kind of roadside emergency would require a rocket launcher?” she asked.
“You don’t want to find out and not have one hand,” Jake said. “It’s also why you should always have a paper clip in your pocket. You can do just about anything with a paper clip.”

I was prepared — even half-way expected — for this to underwhelm me. There wasn’t anything driving me to that expectation, maybe it was just my mood. Thankfully, this surpassed my expectations/fears — not for one second. This was another breezy, fun, adventure for Nick, Kate and the crew.

From page 1, The Scam was firing on all cylinders. The main mission was a lot of fun, with a believable target, just dangerous enough. The side missions were interesting and did a good job pushing the plot forward, not just being B stories.

There was even some tie-ins to previous cases — up to and including a recurring character that’s not part of the team.

Boyd is pretty much the most annoying character in the series, but this time, they struck the right one with him. He was insufferable as always, but he didn’t get on my nerves at all. Which means the book probably deserves a bonus 1/2 star rating just for that. The rest of the team was used only minimally — just little tastes of them all. I don’t think I’d want that all the time, but it worked here. Kate and Nick were…well, Kate and Nick. I think Kate was a bit more honest with herself about her motivations — both professional and personal — than we’re used to seeing her. Maybe the same could be said for Nick, too.

The ending (always the trickiest part of a con story) worked — Kate’s improvised weaponry was just great. Even if we didn’t get to see either the roadside emergency rocket launcher or pocket paper clip (which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great line), sorry Chekhov.

There were a couple of things in the closing pages that floored me. I didn’t think Evanovich would do either of them, just doesn’t seem her style. I like the fact that she can surprise me (maybe it’s Goldberg’s influence — maybe not, but I like the guy, let’s give him the credit). Anyway, there were things in these pages I never expected that I’d get out of Fox and O’Hare. Bravo.

Book five needs to arrive soon. I realize my saying so isn’t going to make it happen. But just in case I’m wrong about that, I should get it on the record.

—–

4 Stars